Glasgow’s Vulnerable – Death in a Model Lodging House

One hundred and twelve years ago the ‘Watson Street Fire’ occurred in Glasgow. A booklet tells the harrowing story of the fire in a model lodging house which resulted in the deaths of thirty nine men and twenty four others seriously injured.  More than three hundred men escaped with their lives.  

Fire broke out on 19th November, 1905, and is a Glasgow disaster that is more ignored than forgotten. The destruction of property amounted to a pitiful £500 but the loss of life was enormous. The thirty nine who died suffered suffocation in the smoke and flames. 

The catastrophe does not feature in any history or web-page about the great City of Glasgow, nor in any book or article. There is no memorial or dedication to the event to mark the anniversary. Yet, in the league table of fire disasters in the UK, this tragedy ranks as deadly as The Glen Cinema catastrophe at Paisley in 1929 with seventy victims, the Summerland Leisure Complex Fire on the Isle of Man in 1973 where there were fifty fatalities,  and the Bradford City Football Stadium blaze of 1985 with fifty six dead. 

All the casualties in Glasgow were male inmates of a ‘model’ at 39 Watson Street, a stone’s-throw from Glasgow Cross in a street connecting Gallowgate and Graeme Street. These were men who were at the bottom of the social order living in the poorest ‘social housing’ of the time.  Safety was not something that was much regarded by those who owned or regulated such institutions. The hero of Watson Street was a Glasgow slater called Jack Finlay (or Findlay) who saved several lives. Willie Cross wonders if his kinfolk still ‘belang tae Glesga”.  

” Death in a Lodging House : The Story of the Watson Street Fire of 1905″  Author  William Cross,  £5.00 ( inc UK p&p ) 58 Sutton Road, Newport, Gwent,NP19 7JF, also via Amazon. 

Sheila Duffy  member 219

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